An ode to remember

Murrawarri Elder Aunty Doris Shillingsworth presents Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr with a kangaroo skin, inscribed with the Ode in Murrawarri language, during a gifting ceremony at Russell Offices, Canberra. Photo: Sergeant Hamish Paterson

An ode to remember

Private Harold West, a Murrawarri man and soldier with 2/1st Battalion, traded his traditional Indigenous weapons for a rifle and answered the call to serve in WWII.

Private West was an exceptional soldier, using Indigenous techniques taught to him by his forefathers to navigate by the stars, track and hunt. He was an expert in jungle warfare.

The story of his service does justice to the direct translation of Murrawarri, “to fall with a fighting club in your hand”.

His fighting at Kokoda was only stopped by death from scrub typhoid.

His inspirational story was read by Major Joe West, also a Murrawarri man and relative of Private West, during a gifting ceremony of the Ode in the Murrawarri language by Murrawarri Elders to Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, at Army Headquarters on November 26 – the anniversary of Private West’s death in New Guinea in 1942.

The gifting of the Ode in language, which was inscribed on a kangaroo skin, acknowledged the shared values of the Murrawarri nation and the Army.

Murrawarri Elder Aunty Doris Shillingsworth explained the significance of the symbols burned on to the skin to accompany the Ode and the two figures that represented Pte West and Pte Leonard.

“The circles represent the Aboriginal people from the many different Aboriginal nations across Australia who took up arms to fight to protect our country, their nation and their families,” she said.

“Three different levels represent the people who served in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

“The two sets of footprints represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Aboriginal people walking and working together to develop a relationship built on respecting and recognising the part played by our people who took up arms in protecting our country.

“The kangaroo and emu represent the totems of the Army.”

Lieutenant General Burr was honoured to receive the gift on behalf of Army.

“Army has a unique connection to country as a land force,” Lieutenant General Burr said.

“It’s important that we continue to build meaningful and enduring connections with the Indigenous communities where we live, work and exercise.

“The Honouring Warrior Spirits project, part of the Centenary of Anzac commemorations, has done great things to acknowledge the contribution of Indigenous soldiers to our Army and calling home the spirits of Indigenous soldiers who fought and fell in WWI.”

As a part of the project, soil was collected from battlefields at Gallipoli, Lone Pine and Anzac Cove and returned to the Lone Pine Tree at the Australian War Memorial in a ceremony on November 26, 2015, where the Ode was first spoken in the Murrawarri language.

Uncle Fred Hooper, a Murrawarri Elder, read the Ode during the gifting ceremony.

“The gifting of language to Army from the Murrawarri nation acknowledges Army’s commitment to reconciliation and recognition of Indigenous service,” Uncle Hooper said. 

Chief of Army Directive 13/19 Enhancing Army Capability through Indigenous Service and Connection provides guidance for Army to continue to connect with Indigenous communities, to demonstrate respect, build relationships and provide opportunities in response to the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan 2019-2022.

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